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Cancer survival story inspires movie, music

Marcy Brenner was 34 years old when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Six months before that day, she had buried her mother, Charlotte Brenner, who had succumbed to ovarian cancer.

It was a dark moment in Brenner's life. So dark that Brenner knew she was at a turning point: She could spiral downward or hold onto hope.

"It feels like you've been dropped into a basement," said Brenner, of her diagnosis in 1997.

"My message is to live while you're alive. All you've got is right now -- this breath. You get to choose."

Brenner's life story and the narrative of her lengthy struggle with aggressive breast cancer has been turned into a film, "Dead Girl Walking." The title comes from a song that Brenner wrote about her illness.

The film will be shown at 7 p.m. Thursday in the Riviera Theatre, 67 Webster St., North Tonawanda, as part of a fundraiser for women's programming for a local YWCA organization.

Brenner will be there to take questions from the audience after the screening.

Capping the evening is a performance by Molasses Creek, a folk and bluegrass band that includes Brenner and her husband, Lou Castro. The group, based in Okracoke Island, N.C., has performed on the radio program "A Prairie Home Companion" and was featured in the movie "Nights in Rodanthe."

It will be the group's first appearance in Buffalo, organizers said.

"We thought, why not bring in an event which addresses health?" said Joelle Logue, president of the YWCA Northeast Regional Council and one of the event organizers. "We all know people who have gone through breast cancer."

Brenner's life story makes for an eventful film.

The daughter of a baker, she made a successful career in Silicon Valley in California in the 1980s before marrying a scion of one of America's flagship upper-class families -- William Randolph Hearst II.

The couple was together for some 10 years, Brenner said. Their marriage disintegrated during Brenner's illness -- which involved two separate diagnoses of breast cancer, in 1997 and 2000, and aggressive treatments, including a bone-marrow transplant.

"The thing about marriage with any crisis is, you either come closer together or you get farther apart," Brenner said.

Brenner is now "11 years out" from her marrow transplant. She is remarried, to Castro, a musician. She's feeling healthy -- and lucky.

"I'm a half-full person. I seem to see things a little bit differently," she said. "I have no illusions about how much power I have over anything.

"The only thing I have power over is my attitude."

Brenner and Castro joined Molasses Creek after performing for a while on their own as Coyote.

On its latest monthlong tour, Molasses Creek -- which can reel off a bluegrassy version of "Redwing" and then meander into a laid-back vocal rendering of "The Way You Look Tonight" or "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" -- will be performing a mix of new and old music, Brenner said.

"We have new material that we're always bringing to the front," she said. "A good portion of the songs (performed in Buffalo) will be new."

Tickets are $20 and include the film and concert, available at the door at the Riviera Theatre or in advance from the YWCA of the Tonawandas, 49 Tremont St., North Tonawanda.

All proceeds will go to support women's programming offered by the YWCA of the Tonawandas, organizers said.

"We're going to put it toward our domestic violence programs, and our programs [promoting] economic independence for women," said Logue, of the local YWCA. "Everything we do is to help women."


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